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Increasing demand and climate change threaten global water supplies – UN report

A young resident of Maslakh camp (Afghanistan) takes a drink of water. UN Photo/E. Debebe

12 March 2012 – An unprecedented rise in the demand for food, rapid urbanization and climate change are significantly threatening global water supplies, according to a United Nations report released today, which stresses that a radical new approach to managing this essential resource is needed to be able to sustain future consumption levels.

The UN World Water Development Report, which will be launched at the World Water Forum in Marseille, estimates that there will be a 70 per cent increase in demand for food by the year 2050, leading to a 19 per cent surge in water used for agriculture. At the moment, 70 per cent of freshwater is already being used for agricultural purposes.

“Freshwater is not being used sustainably, according to needs and demands,” states the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, in the report’s foreword. “Accurate information remains disparate, and management is fragmented. In this context, the future is increasingly uncertain and risks are set to deepen.”

The report, entitled “Managing Water under Uncertainty and Risk,” notes that to respond to growing demand, countries have tapped into underground water sources, with water extraction tripling over the past 50 years. However, in some underground basins, water cannot be replenished and is now at critically low levels.

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